The cell phone: This device helps us in so many ways. We can make phone calls, text friends, check e-mail, post pictures, navigate our way to a destination, plus much more. We can accomplish practically anything with that trusted smartphone.
It is hard to identify the delicate line when this helpful device becomes enslaving. It is obvious that modern society’s technology has created an internal conflict around how we spend our time and how we interact with others. Finding the balance with technology is going to be modern society’s great struggle. When left idle, do we reach for a book or our electronic device? Do we go outside or do we browse Facebook? The sad reality is that most of us are missing precious moments daily while distracted by our phones. The unhealthy dependency we have on our electronics, especially our cell phones, distracts us from beautiful moments we will never be able to repeat.
This week’s Be Better Challenge is to set our phones aside for 15-minute increments (aka a 15-minute timeout). We are not talking about “aside” as in “next to you.” We are talking about aside as in totally out of sight. Although you may be uncomfortable at first, the time you spend disconnected from your phone is liberating. Throughout the day, find opportunities to put your phone aside and be present in the moment.
This week we will compound our impact by participating in a campaign run by our chosen charity, UNICEF Tap Project. In addition to the Be Better donation for your phone “timeouts,” you will also raise money for every 15 minutes you do not touch your phone using the Tap Project app. The cell phone app tracks how long you go without using your phone. For every 15 minutes you do not use your phone, generous donors will help provide a day of clean water for a child in need.
How it works:
- Best way is to Google: UNICEF Tap Project
- Follow the onscreen directions. If you don’t want to type in your contact information, just click “No Thank You.”
- It gives you 10 seconds to set down your phone and 10 seconds to set it down again if you accidentally pick it up.
- If your phone is near you, the app gives you statistics regarding international water issues across the world.
- Although we don’t mind if you read the stats once or twice (they are super informative), we ultimately want you to put your phone out of sight.
One of the great benefits of this week’s challenge is that you will find ways to recharge your life without the use of electronics. Make a yummy dinner that takes time to prepare, play a board game, laugh with friends, read a new book or go for a walk and look at the stars. Our addiction to electronics makes us live half the time in the present moment, the other half in this make-believe cyber world. Enjoy the present moment without electronics.
Discouraging Studies about Phone Use and Mental Health
The trouble, most of the time, is that we don’t even realize we are checking the phone. According to a study published in Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, smartphone users have developed what they call “checking habits” — repetitive checks of e-mails and other applications such as Facebook. The checks typically lasted fewer than 30 seconds and were often done within 10 minutes of each other.
According to another study published in Psychology Today, “College students are the heaviest users of information and communication technology, and an overwhelming number of them own smartphones and use them throughout their day—sending an average of 109.5 text messages a day, receiving just as many each day, and checking their cell phones 60 times on an average day.” This addiction to checking our phone has many negative consequences, such as a failure to interact face-to-face with people or avoidance of things we do not want to do.
How does our attachment to cell phones affect our mental health? A recent study by researchers at Baylor University calculated that the average college-age American woman is on her phone for 10 hours a day. Although the new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) only lists gambling as a diagnosable behavioral addiction, all the characteristics of addiction translate to our attachment to our cell phones. Addictions become all-consuming and isolate us from the world. There is a clinical term called “variable ratio reinforcement,” which could be one of the reasons we keep checking our phones. Normally used to describe gambling at slot machines, what it means is that we never know when we will get a text message or notification that produces a positive feeling. But being attached to our phone means we lose out on opportunities to interact with real people and fail to be present in the moment.
Tips to become less dependent on your phone
- When you get home from work, put your phone in another room for an hour to spend quality time with your husband, kids, roommates, friends, etc.
- Know when to turn your cell phone off in social situations. Create a list for you and your family of “no cell phone” situations.
- When you exercise, do not answer phone calls and text messages if you are using your phone for exercise apps or music.
- Don’t bring your phone to church, yoga or meditation.
- Find peace in the fact that you are off the grid for small moments throughout the day.
- Next, notice the people around you. Who is head down staring at a phone and who is walking around connecting with people through smiles and eye contact? You might also pay attention to cell phone use in restaurants, busy streets, cars or doctors’ offices. Don’t judge; just pay attention. Notice the cell phone users’ behavior or their lack of behavior with the outside world.
- Delete your Facebook app for the week so you do not get Facebook notifications on your phone.
- Put your phone on silent, not vibrate. When your phone is on vibrate, the vibrating buzz is a constant reminder that you should check your phone because you are about to miss a phone call or text message. The problem is that our phones are attached to many other notification systems, such as Facebook, Instagram, e-mails, etc. With so many social platforms at your fingertips, you are already tempted to check the updates on your phone: You don’t need the vibration reminders. There is even something called Phantom Cellphone Syndrome, which is when a person thinks his or her phone is vibrating but, in fact, it isn’t. Have you ever experienced that sensation?